Are you "skinny fat"?

Have you ever heard the term "skinny fat"? This refers to a person who looks fairly thin, may wear a smallish size of clothing, and is not necessarily overweight. (As you may know, muscle weighs more than fat.) However, if you were to get an accurate measurement of this person's body fat percentage, you would find that their lean mass is actually very low, as they are carrying very little muscle, and so their relative percentage of body fat is quite high. This is a fairly common state for people who are sedentary. Yes, most of America. Today, many very young people, even teens, are "skinny fat".

If you are only interested in aesthetics, a "skinny fat" person might not look too bad. Of course, you would not see any muscle or muscle definition (which some of us find very appealing!) but this person might look just fine in clothes. They probably have a BMI in the normal range. (Which just goes to show that the whole BMI thing is not very helpful.) So what is wrong with being "skinny fat"?

Unfortunately, a "skinny fat" person has many of the same exact problems which plague the obese. Although they do not LOOK fat, on the inside, they ARE fat. Because these folks are mostly made of fat, they are usually pre-diabetic, if not already diabetic. They may be insulin-resistant. A doctor can perform several blood tests to determine if these problems exist. "Skinny fat" people are at greater risk for all the diseases which go hand in hand with diabetes, including heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer's. According to Dr. Mark Hyman, "skinny fat" people are TWICE as likely to die from diabetes as their obese counterparts. This may be due to their lack of lean body mass.

You definitely could not call a "skinny fat" person fit. Lacking muscle mass means lacking strength. A person who has a high percentage of body fat is probably going to have a slower metabolism due to that lack of muscle mass. And even if not currently overweight or obese, a high percentage of body fat and a low percentage of lean muscle mass is setting a person up for future problems with weight gain, possible issues with bone density (which is aided by muscle) and falls (which happen less frequently when older people remain strong).

If you think you may need to gain lean muscle mass, what should you do? That's simple. Lift weights.

And to make the largest difference in muscle mass, you need to lift heavy weights. Picking up those little 2-3 pound dumbbells that come in pretty colors at Target is not going to build muscle mass. But moving your body weight will. Or lifting heavy.

Exercises that involve lifting your body weight are often not easy for women, at least at first. But these are the exercises which will have the biggest impact on muscle mass. For starters, try the step-up: Find a stable bench or platform which is about the height of your knees. (If you are older, out of shape, or have knee problems or balance issues, start with a lower height and build up to this.) Step up onto the bench and step down again. Repeat at least 10 times, leading with your right foot. Then switch sides. When you can do 3 sets of 10 without too much trouble, begin to add some weight. Pick up a set of 10 pound dumbbells. Press them up over your head as you step up. Now you're cooking with gas! When your legs become strong and you feel confident, you can move on to box jumps. (Jumping up onto the bench and then stepping down.) Step-up's are great for building muscle mass as they use the largest muscles of the body. Squats and lunges are also awesome alternatives.

Whether or not you are overweight, or "skinny fat", building lean muscle is a great idea. You will become stronger, more fit, look sexier, and feel fantastic. If you are older, building muscle can improve your bone density as well as your balance. Give it go!